Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Most Needed Peer Pressure in Christianity

The greatest of these is love. (I Cor. 13:13)
I first posted a version of these thoughts at Desiring God a few years ago. Of all the thoughts on which I have written over the years, THIS is the one that I most often need to revisit. There's not a whole lot of peer pressure in conservative evangelicalism to endure in love for the long haul with family and friends who are struggling. I've received this encouragement privately from time to time, but I haven't read much about it publicly. Yet, it seems the essence of gospel grace. What IS gospel grace practically if it is not God enduring with us when we were unworthy because of Jesus--and then calling us to do the same with the person closest to us.

I have a friend who loves God and His Word and desired to raise her children to love Him. Yet one of her children has made a series of choices that has challenged their family. I asked once if she felt more peer pressure in her Christian culture to get her child to conform or to bear long with him in love? I asked because I too had struggling friends and family, and the pressure within me and from others outside was that these situations were unacceptable, and I needed to do whatever I could to change them. Her answer? She felt much more peer pressure to get him to conform than to endure with him in love.

Most of us want control of our circumstances and gravitate to suggestions of things to try to fix a situation with a struggling loved one. But at some point, as things continue without change, I tire of suggestions to try. In one such situation, I sat with a wise older friend and listened as she spoke words that poured over my parched soul. Her advice? Rest. Endure. Love. After time in her presence, I felt FREE—free from the guilt that I wasn't doing enough to change my loved one, free from pressure to come up with the thing that would most help them, free to love them unconditionally the way God has loved me, and free to bare my soul to God in confidence that He would hear me. Most of all, I felt free to leave my fears at God's feet when I was done.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing. Love never ends. (I Cor. 13:7-8)
My pastor's wife has ministered similarly to me. One of my boys demonstrated numerous behavior problems in his early years. I finally stopped planning playdates after my 2nd son came along, because such times always descended into chaos on my end while my friends and their children watched in horror (at least that's how I felt). I began attending a new church and showed up at the home of the pastor's wife for a playdate. I was weary. I was out of things to try to control my boys, to control my life. I was afraid to admit my struggles for fear I would be given yet another suggestion of something to try, advice that means well but reinforces that my circumstances are unacceptable, and I need to do whatever I can to change them. 

Instead, she encouraged me to persevere in love and confidence. She told me to rest in God's sovereign hand and trust His commands to bear long with a quiet, calm heart. She gave testimony to me of her mother who persevered with her children in grace. She shared her confidence that unconditional love and gospel grace were the most effective tools for change. She ministered grace to me that strengthened me to reengage with struggling family and friends with hope.

If you are in a season of struggle with those God has called you to love, God doesn't expect you to change your loved one. In fact, you absolutely can NOT change them, and changing them is most definitely not your responsibility. Instead, His call is to bear long in love, to endure, and to believe the best for that person while HE changes them.

If you are not in that season but are friends with someone who is, weigh carefully the tone of your suggestions or encouragements. Hold your friend up as they bear long and patiently endure. Believe with them that grace works and that loving unconditionally for the long haul is the most effective tool we have for influencing change in the ones we love. May you and I rest from our attempts to change our loved ones and find refuge in God's ability and promise to do so. And may the greatest peer pressure we put on each other in such situations be to bear in love for the long haul.
... walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, (Eph. 4:1-2)

12 comments:

  1. This is a really great perspective to share. It is something I have seen in action as my husband works with some of the guys in our community. I know my tendency is to say, "It isnt working, give up on him." But Pete perseveres and that has helped me to see that we don't love peiple in order to change them, we love them because they are people made in God's image and they deserve dignity and respect. It often isn't easy tho and we sometimes struggle with the question of how to love without expectations of change in return, without giving the impression that we think the bad situation they are in is an ok place to stay. Not sure if that makes sense, but thanks for the reminder again that change is God's business and we are called to trust His timing in that.

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    1. That definitely makes sense, Ruth. I struggle similarly.

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  2. Thankful for this reminder! It takes constant repeating for me to remember this. When my first 'wild' child (according to some, that would translate: sinner who needs more discipline) was around 5, a wonderful elderly lady in a church mostly full of people who would try to "fix" with harsher discipline, told my husband and me that "she just wants to be held and loved". We tried to remember that, and found it to be very true. She really does respond much better the more hugs and love she gets, especially when she's upset. Even now, 8 years later. :) Thanks again!

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  3. Thank you so much. I've been reading your blog for a few years now and it is such a blessing. This is exactly what I need to remember now, with my children and with some dear friends, and this is what God has been working on me with for several months. I came across another comment on a blog recently that blessed and challenged my heart in the same way. "My responsibility is not to change hearts. My responsibility is to respond biblically." Thanks for sharing with us the insights God works in you.

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  4. Wow, this is literally, exactly what I needed to hear another sister in Christ say - my husband doesn't love the Lord or believe in God as of a year and a half ago and continues to make choices and speak according to his heart that is far from God. The pain of it is agonizing at times and I confess that I am just as desperate for myself and my children that he change as for himself. I want to push him into the image I have for him and I often struggle with just wanting to shut him out so that he can't continue to hurt me. But I hear the Holy Spirit calling me over and over to love him as Christ has loved me. I hear Him entreating me to have a gentle and quiet spirit that I for so long despised having linked it by experience to so many weak, push over women. He is calling me to rest in Him - my perfect Rest - to provide for me and shield me and enable me to do something that I have no ability in my own self to accomplish - to love my husband with an unconditional love. I am expectant to see what the Lord will do, but I know with the Lord, His promises will be fulfilled but likely not in the way I want or in the timing I think best. Thanks for the peer pressure - I needed that!

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  5. I think this is wonderful truth, especially when it comes to our children, spouse or a struggling friend. It would be very concerning; however, to give that advice to someone in an abusive situation or marriage. Love also says no. Sometimes it is better to set a clear, LOVING boundary rather than endure outright sin in the name of love. Abuse is wrong and should never be tolerated in the name of Christ.

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    1. Absolutely true, Anonymous. I wrote about that here.

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    2. Great article. You have a clearly Biblical, grace-filled and merciful approach to the heart wrenching subject of abuse. Thank you. It is hard to find.

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  6. It was exactly this blog that I read on Desiring God which led me to become a regular reader. Talk about revisiting it, I made a hard copy and put it in a top file so I could grab it for regular reading. Just last week a dear neighbor of mine moved. I gave her my hard copy of the blog and wrote on it that my prayer for her in her new city would be that she would find a friend like the one described in the blog, because that was exactly the kind of friend she'd been to me - one who encouraged me to love unconditionally. So now I'll make a hard copy of this reposting.

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  7. “The greatest of these is love. (I Cor. 13:13)”

    everything just noisy gongs, profiting nothing without it; such an indictment - our complete inability for sincere,true love without Him.

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  8. "Love is patient, Love is kind. It is not rude..." The most offensive four letter word in the Word is "wait." Enduring, patience, kindness, waiting--each word conveys a fraction of the idea of putting ourselves on hold for something greater. Man, is it hard to do. Especially for someone whose sins and depravity are smoldering through to the surface of their identity. Turning a back to abused or abuser is to demonstrate indifference. Indifference is an order of magnitutde more isolating then hate. Jesus was never indifferent to anyone that I can find in Scripture. I read that to mean that we are not given the option of indifference. There is nothing easy about witnessing that Christ is who He says He is.

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  9. I loved your article. Thanks so much. It's sad that we Christians, who have the Holy Spirit living inside us, so often fail to see one another with the Holy Spirit's eyes. I always teach that our job is to see people with the eyes of God and speak to them with the words of God...only. If we would only do so, then I believe we would see God's redemptive purpose fulfilled in the lives of the wandering much more than we do.

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